Near a Year

You’re in the arms of the angels.  May you find some comfort here.

You also liked the Prayer of St. Francis, and the hymn.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;Where there is hatred, let me sow love;Where there is injury, pardon;Where there is discord, harmony.

I was talking to Linda today.  You were right, I told her, the grief does lose a bit of its jagged edge.

But it comes back sometimes, I say.

Yes, said Linda, who lost her own mother to early onset Alzheimers’ a number of years ago.

What would you think, mom, of dad living in Ottawa in a beautiful assisted living place where he is sometimes catered to like a king.  I have to admit I wish you had had such an opportunity.  Sherri and Scott visit all the time and he is sometimes more relaxed than he has been in years.

You were so worried about what would happen with the house.  That’s taken care of now.  You would be so thankful, yes?  I wish now I had kept more of your things – I couldn’t manage to do that at the time.  I do have that cute piece of china though and I often look at it and think of you – wondering when you bought it, why you chose it.

I realize the last coherent conversation I had with you was more than a year ago now – even then, you were a bit beside yourself with fear.  Oh, I don’t blame you at all on that one.  It was a scary time.

I was relieved for you in a way that you didn’t have to live through the second coldest Winnipeg winter on record.

where there is error, truth;Where there is doubt, faith;Where there is despair, hope;

Is there still a you somewhere out there?  I like to think so.

Sylvia told me once that she sits on her deck, has a glass of wine and talks to her deceased father.

I spend a lot of time thinking about where you have gone.

What you have missed.

Not much on my end – a job here, a job there, an article here, an article there.  No man yet so I think we have to give up on that one.

where there is darkness, light;And where there is sadness, joy.

I still find it almost impossible to believe that I won’t ever hear your voice again.

Sherri’s had this horrible vertigo/ear virus thing and I know you would have worried yourself really sick about it.  You would have called relatives and told them in French what was going on.   French French French, Sherri, French French French.

Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix.Là où il y a de la haine, que je mette l’amour.Là où il y a l’offense, que je mette le pardon.Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l’union.

I remember we would sometimes go to the French cathedral mass and all I understood was Seigneur.  That was right across the street from Memere.  I like to think that y’all get to hang out with each other and my heart wants to be that much of a literalist.

From this much of a distance, I said to Linda, I can pretend that the house is not sold in Winnipeg and that you and dad are still living there.

Good denial, Linda said.  Whatever works, she said.

You’d be thrilled that I had two! solid weeks of work teaching some lovely middle-aged Chinese immigrants.  Somehow I mentioned you had passed and there was a sweet chorus of ‘sorrys’ said in their accented English.  It was lovely.

Là où il y a l’erreur, que je mette la vérité.Là où il y a le doute, que je mette la foi.Là où il y a le désespoir, que je mette l’espérance.

And Cheyenne – well, Cheyenne.  The walls of the living room would have been covered in printouts of her high school graduation photos.  And the photos shared on Facebook over and over.  “Great pictures of Cheyenne, eh?” you would have said to me.

She’s going to be a nurse – not sure if you knew that.  And she’s volunteering at a French hospital and at that your happiness would have bubbled all up.

I think it’s rather entertaining that dad is having a hard time figuring out his new computer.  You would have had it all aced in a day.  “Not that button, Joe!  It’s this button!  Come on.  Scott showed us, it is easy.”

I know that you would have shared and shared the story that I wrote for the Vancouver Courier.

“Karen, front page.  French French French French.”

“That was pretty good, Karen.  She’s older than I am (the woman I interviewed).”

Your last year was so difficult for you – and that still makes me sad.  I remember at the end when you were confused and told Sherri and me you didn’t know why you were crying.

That tears me up now.

où il y a les ténèbres, que je mette votre lumière.Là où il y a la tristesse, que je mette la joie.

“Did you copy the French from somewhere?” you would have asked me upon reading this blog post.  “I mean I know you don’t understand French.”

I even miss the sarcasm, mom.  I remember Christmas 2009 when I came to visit for a week! in the -35,000 temperatures and how I didn’t leave the house for a week except for a marathon swimming session where dad was surprised that I could even figure out the lockers for myself.

We had sat down to our Christmas meal, one of the last ones you would ever make.

“Were the stores all out of Christmas cards,” you said and I stared at you.

“Hmmm?  Oh ha ha ha ha, I said.  “You are trying to say that I should have gotten you a Christmas card.  Yes, the stores in Vancouver had no Christmas cards.”

“Just joking,” you said.

“You are never sarcastic with Sherri,” I said.

“She is never sarcastic with you,” I said to Sherri in a phone call later that night.

“Maybe take an ativan,” said Sherri.

“It is -35,000 here and I can’t go outside.”

“Oh dear.”

You’d be so proud of Sherri now, mom.  She stepped right up and cared for you until the very end, sitting at your bedside and getting you Sprite, water, ice cream.  And then she and Scott got dad to Ottawa!  Who could have imagined that.

“Sherri knows old people,” you told me once.

“Well, she is an old person,” I said.

You laughed.

“No, I mean she knows what to do with them,” you said.  True, Sherri is a social worker for old people (not her official title).

I know you always wanted us to be closer and you missed seeing this happen a bit.  It was you who drew us all to Winnipeg almost a year ago, the five of us bunched up in the little house on the prairie.

“Mom would love to be here now,” I said.

It was -40C and horribly windy the afternoon we stood outside and had the ceremony for your urn niche in the wall.  Auntie Maria trekked out there with us even though she didn’t have to and took my arm.  I am forever grateful for that and you would have been so proud.

Uncle Charlie was there which blew me away.  How much he respected you.

And Auntie Gilberte.

And a relative of dad’s.  I oddly think you would have been proud of me when I blurted out to him, “oh, so you are one of the very few relatives of my father who didn’t disown him.  Great you could come.”  He mumbled and backed away from me.

There were cousins there I hadn’t seen in years.  All there out of respect for you, to honour you on Christmas Eve.

I still think of you as a you, existing out there somewhere.


I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great women because of you – a hospice counsellor who helped me through in the beginning and an art therapist that I still see.

“What do you do at art therapy?” you would have asked.

“Colour and stuff like that.”

“Oh.  That’s interesting.  Whatever makes you happy.”

That’s what you wanted – it’s what you said to me.  Be happy and be nice to dad.

You were so horribly worried that we would abandon dad.

Honour thy mother and thy father. – Sherri’s doing really well at that one.  I call him once in awhile and he is always happy to here from me but seems to like to get off of the phone quickly.

“Okay, then, we’ll talk to you again,” he says.

“All righty,” I say.

He is doing okay and I think he likes all of the attention.  There’s a manor Christmas dinner in a couple of weeks and he can bring two guests – Sherri and Scott have accepted.  They won a fruit basket at the open house the other week.  A really big fruit basket actually and apparently.  A small perk.

I know you would have been watching Dancing with the Stars and reading books that you had dad get for you out of the library.  Sherri said that you liked to read whatever she was reading.

I was on a Soap Opera Digest obsession for almost a year – reminded me of you, I think.  Not so easy to get is SOD anymore.  They cancelled every soap opera you watched, except General Hospital.

I hear tell that the actual anniversary date – the first one especially – can be really, really hard.  I’m nost sure what I will do that day.  If ever you want to send me a sign I will watch out for one.  I still look at Mr. Big bars in the line up at the grocery store and think of you.  Maybe you could have someone like accidentally throw one at me or maybe I could trip over one on my way to the store to get Soap Opera Digest on the anniversary of your passing.

We never said the i love you thing, or not much anyway.  I say it now because it is easier and somehow doesn’t feel too late.

“There really is no one who loves you as unconditionally as your mother,” I said to the art therapist awhile back.  True, that.


Hmmm.  So my sister still has no balance when she walks so they are sending her from one hospital to another via ambulance where she has to wait in yet another emergency to see a neurologist as the first hospital hasn’t got one of those today.


She managed to e-mail me earlier today to tell me about this.

“Awful,” I wrote back.


A dog and pony show my brother-in-law called it and he is right – at least a nurse has accompanied them which makes me feel a bit relieved.  The MRI and CT scan were clear but her right eye is still moving about.


“Your blog is like an online journal,” noted L.

“Yeah,” I wrote back.

That is how I roll.

So I feel like I have to go buy another book even though I have a zillion and I have no job and no money.  Hmmm.   But but but but but.

This week though I am working quite a lot.  Monday-Thursday six hours a day with the delightful Chinese immigrants and two evenings.  After Thursday, there is a whole lot of nothing and I mean it this time, ha.  I tried to get some kind of a job through Christmas but nothing has come of that as of yet.  Hmmm, the next two months will be super slow.  I hate like crazy digging into my savings but there you go.

It is a stunningly beautiful day here in Vancouver, BC – perfect blue sky and it is cold and I love it.  I’ll get out there soon.  I have a 50th birthday celebration to go to later that I somehow helped organize.  Wasn’t too difficult, mainly e-mailing folks and the restaurant.  It’s for C.  and C. is fabulous.  I’ve known C. for like almost 20 years holy cow holy cow.  We lost touch for several years, then reconnected about three years ago at Save On Foods of all places.  She’s funny and we laugh and she like sits with people in the ER.  She did that for me when I had pneumonia and for several other people. She is the go to person for that.  She is also teaching me how to hug without pulling away so quickly – are we done yet, are we done yet.  Not yet! she says.  Hmmm, in my heart I am a huge hugger.

Anyway, so this should be fun and I think she will have a great time.

The elections were held and it was close but Gregor Robertson remains the mayor.  Lesser of two evils perhaps but who knows.

Okay, off I go to think about neurologist and emergency rooms and maybe dance to a bit of Abba.

so there was this

You feel helpless.

You are teaching your evening class and sneaking looks at Facebook when you see what your sister’s husband has written as his latest status.


ambulance ride

emergency room

being admitted.

He is understandably incredibly distressed but responds to your FB message.



She can’t sit up.

You thought you knew for vertigo, having had it a few times in the last several years – came on suddenly and then 20 minutes of the room spinning around while you lay on your bed, eyes closed but the world still spinning.

But this, this is different.

This is eyes spinning up and down and side to side.

And nausea.

And being debilitated.

Updates come and for almost 48 hours nothing changes.

Nothing improves.

A diagnosis is suggested.  One that is eventually manageable but always random and sometimes discouraging and depressing.

What can you do.


You feel helpless and angry that you feel helpless.

You picture her lying there, eyes closed, terrified.

You are actually doing some subbing with some lovely Chinese immigrants and the theme for the month is health.  So you bring up the potential diagnosis and one student calls you aside later and tells you that is what she has.

Wow, you say.  She explains a bit.  You thank her profusely.

I just need to check my phone every five minutes for updates, you tell the students.

Okay, they say.

But FB isn’t opening for some reason and the Wifi keeps coming and going.


The emotions you feel are somehow akin to grief even though you know that what is happening is definitely not in any way life threatening.

But still.

What is that.

You chastise yourself for the anxiety.

Since your mother died nearly a year ago you realize how much more emphasis you have placed on the almost daily e-mails – one liners most times, funny e-mails, some ridiculously hilarious about your shared father who now lives in the same city as your sister in assisted living.  You realize you have come to count on these.  You are surprised by the depth of your feelings.


Helpless.  You research quite a bit about the potential new diagnosis and you get every praying person you know to pray please.

The evangelicals.

The non-evangelicals.

This is what you turn to in times like this and the prayers respond and they pray.

You’ve never read about Jesus having vertigo but you never know, some bits weren’t recorded.

Or maybe it was lost – “Jesus had severe vertigo for two days and lay on the ground and his good pal John sat beside him the whole time, even while he was vomiting hour after hour.”

“It will be okay,” Peter said upon visiting, “We are all praying.”

Your brain wants to get in there with well how come some people are healed and some aren’t but you request the prayers anyway.

You feel an ache because your sister has had more than her share of health problems in her life and now this with dad just having moved near her and all of the accompanying stresses.

You know that the past has been tough and that that is a difficult thing but you’ve seen your sister care for your dying mother in a way that made you weep when you weren’t pacing the room in overwhelmingness.

Then in the most unlikely of all events ever, more unlikely than a Jewish lesbian pope in a wheelchair, your father agreed to move to assisted living in Ottawa.  And they set him up and visited the heck out of  him so he wouldn’t self destruct in his own pile of anxiety that rises higher than the sky.

They would watch All in the Family together (the ones before Edith died, you asked.  Yes but also sometimes Archie Bunker’s Place) and sometimes dad would laugh out loud because he was vaguely relaxed and not from valium.

Just before the 911, the evening before, you had e-mailed your sister to tell her that you thought she and brother-in-law were enabling your father to show his true personality that is beneath his crap for the first time ever because he is feeling safe.  You are rather stunned by that.  Dad is still dad of course, you say, and when the cable went out that was a whole thing but generally, yeah look what you are doing.

My grandfather sold cloth, he told them one evening.  In your entire life you had never heard a thing about your father’s family.

What miracle is this, you wondered.

Guilt over your own inaction wants to slay you.

Dramatic that last line really.

Finally, two days in, the vertigo is slowing down although not completely stopped.  A wonky right eye and balance not restored.  A normal MRI but more of a hospital stay.

Talk of just a virus and not that other diagnosis.

You are thrilled for them and relieved and filled with big feelings.

You even get an e-mail this evening from the one with vertigo to say that while she has to type with one eye closed she is doing okay.

But it was terrifying, she says.

And you write write back and say hurrah and it must have beepin sucked and every day I think you will get better and better.

You know you have more invested and that is hard.  That is big feelings.

But this, this return from vertigo, this

This makes you weep.

You realize that you are making it sound quite dramatic.  a.) you are a dramatic person b.) you are a dramatic person c.) you allow yourself this depth of feeling for a sister you are really just starting to get to know in a way.  You acknowledge all of the other feelings and guilt and blah blah and say yup, there you are but look – she is getting better!


Dear Chapters:

Or Indigo or whatever you are these days:

I visited you this evening.  Oh you are packed with people.  You are also packed with Christmas trees, Christmas stuff everywhere.

I wonder, Chapters, if you still sell books.

Seems you do but the square footage for books and reading material seems less and less.

The stuff is crowding it out.

It also seems your thing to have ‘Heather’s picks.’  Totally getting that Heather is the CEO and therefore her picks may hold some weight.

I’m not feeling it.  I don’t know why and no offense but I care so little what Heather picks.  Or rather, apparently, what her staff picks for her.

I do see that you are having John Cleese in your store next week.  That’s cool.  Absolutely no pictures or personal notes when he signs your books, insist your signs.  Yeah, okay.  I’m sure it will be crazy there.

I would also like you to please carry the Bellevue Literary Review again.

I’m also curious about how you decide which books are ‘for men’ and which ones ‘for women.’   Oh and which ones for ‘thinkers.’  The other hand I guess being ‘for non-thinkers.’

I do of course enjoy your 40% off best sellers – that got me Ian McEwan’s surprisingly excellent latest.

You do have some literary magazines still, very good, very good.

But the general feel of your store, Chapters, especially your downtown store, is not one that I so much enjoy.  But that’s just me of course.  There seemed to be many happy shoppers there.

You used to have these great comfy chairs to sit in that made reading an entire book without having to buy it a freelance person’s dream.  Those are gone now – a few hard back chairs still.  Well, thanks for keeping those.

I worry, Chapters.  I worry that one day you will have no books at all.  When does Heather think this is likely to happen?

I even applied earlier this year to be a part of your bookstore-ness.  72 online questions about my desire to be a Chapters team player and it seems I failed.  But Chapters, I would tell people more than they ever wanted to know about books.  Well, some anyway.  Not so much the vampire-esque ones or the so-called chick lit.

Your staff is generally very friendly and they don’t seem like they want to slash their throats immediately.  So that’s good.

Chapters, you are sadly or not, the Canadian bookstore.  This is a lot of responsibility.  I think 10 trees in one store is more than enough but that’s just me.

Heather, could you sometimes pick less obvious picks?  How about something out of left field that hasn’t had much promotion elsewhere but is damn good?  I know, I know, I don’t understand the bottom line.

Anyway, just some thoughts.  I can’t quit you of course but Book Warehouse has a bit more of my heart.  My soul though – that belongs to Powells’ Books in Portland and Foyle’s Books in London, England.  A tiny bit of my soul would go to Village Books in Bellingham, mainly because it isn’t too far.

But I don’t think you can really have anyone’s soul, Chapters, cause really, you may not have one yourself.

Hmmm, That last line there is a little judgemental.

At Meetup Scrabble late this afternoon, there was more weirdness than I’d say was usual.  It was out in North bleepin Burnaby because most folks live out there.  Twas okay, I did my McGill Library thing first.

One of the Scrabble players seemed to think I talked too much and she expressed this in a way that is fairly typical of the socially inept group of players that we are.  That bugged me more than her comments.  Give me a break.  This Scrabble group must remain sacred.

My throat glands hurt again I tell you.  Sheesh.

On a positive note, my wee story made the front page of the Vancouver Courier so that was nice nice.

What fresh hell

Is this latest virus?


I seem to get sick a lot.

Actually, not really – maybe three times a year but it is always dramatic and always when I am teaching.

Thus and therefore –   I have been teaching very very little the last couple of months which my bank account and brain are well aware of.  And now, I’ve got a couple of weeks of subbing and


Started feeling crappy last week and it became something weird the last couple of days.  Not going to sub tomorrow but will go into the longer term gig (Tuesday-Thursday, then Mon, Wed. , Thursday next week) on Tuesday no matter what.  I am looking forward to it as it is LINC and I subbed there back in September so some of the students are the same.  And then my two nights a week at Langara are still on, although I might have to postpone those depending on how I feel.  That seems to happen every damn time I teach there!

I’m frustrated.  I’m frustrated because the timing is bad, because I get bored, because I let myself get overwhelmed.  Laryngitis last time, hopefully not this time.

It is frustrating not having a job and sick pay.

I was booked for a full day somewhere tomorrow and had to cancel but I haven’t heard back from them – hope that works out.

I get down on myself (of course) because I get sick.  Because the getting sick becomes a big deal.

Tricky and a bit difficult.

Haven’t had much of an appetite – mainly eaten ice cream.  Hmmm, not so healthy that.

In some ways, I feel like my body lets me down – my anxiety gets in there and makes things so much worse.

Gentle, says AT- or she would if  I were there now, painting away and learning just how much I love fingerpainting.

I’m going to hear this week I think if the article I wrote for The Vancouver Courier will be published or not.  The editor of the section said she’d get right back to me . . . Hmmm.  Not a bad little article if I do say so myself.  I do, I do.

So this subbing is a great little gig really.  And it is the last gig most likely until I don’t know – February, March.  So it takes on an extraordinary importance.

Twenty students in the morning, twenty or so in the afternoon.  Mainly female Chinese immigrants with a few men and other cultures thrown in there.  Three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon.  They are a bit of a demanding lot – I have to be on my game every second but in general lovely.

“They did say you speak too fast,” was the feedback from last time.  You don’t say.  “But they thought you were very funny.”  Uh yes, thank you.  Put me in front of some students and I generally make them laugh just from, well, being myself really.  The topic rather ironically this month is health.  I generally like that topic.  Luckily I went in last week and did a lot of prep – should be enough for the first week I hope.  It is two buses away so I went and bought a bus pass for the first time in a long time.  And then I get sick.  Of course, of course.

My brain turns quite a lot into a big deal.  It is very very good at that.

The virus makes me weak, interspersed with moments of energy when I feel better.  That kind of thing.

What else?  Oh I can’t get American Netflix anymore – media hint is no longer free.  And so goes that.

Enough has been said/written about JG to last a lifetime.  He’s rumoured to be hiding out in L.A.    He’s a narcissist and a general all around bad person but with his anxiety disorder, perhaps he is out there feeling suicidal.    This is such big and constant news in Canada and his FB page comments have degenerated into people fighting with each other.  Not sure why he hasn’t shut it down.  I said enough has been said but I am saying more.  Yup.  Oy, the secrets some people hold and then they come out and holy cow.

My dad continues to live in Ottawa at the assisted living facility he’s been at for a couple of weeks now.  Some bumps in that road but my sister and her family are looking after him mighty well so that’s lovely. I’m thankful for that.

On Thursday evening I had to schlepp to out near Lougheed Mall to go for a group interview for the three week winter camp in Korea in January.  Roundtrip airfare, $1800 in my pocket, all meals and accommodations.  Open ticket so you can travel after if you like, as long as you return from Seoul.  I don’t think I did that well at the group interview – I was feeling ill and I get competitive.  People were saying they’d lived in Korea, Japan, Honduras, China and one had even volunteered at a orphanage in India.

“I have not been to India,”  I said, “But I have been teaching for 15 years.”

Not with kids though and this camp is for grade 4-6 as I recall.  Nine to five, Monday to Friday with weekends off (apparently not usual in a camp).  Would be three intense weeks and then done.  I will find out mid-November but they are interviewing a whole whack of people.  And quite frankly,  I wonder if I could do it. Or if I’d get sick or stressed and not be able to handle it – who knows.  All the kimchi you can eat, they said, for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you like.  Rice for breakfast too if you want.

My lovely friend, C, schlepped out to near Lougheed Mall with me.  And in the dark and pouring rain we used her GPS to walk from the skytrain to find the place.  It was an apartment building the middle of nowhere but alas, a pub next door, the Irish pub, The Foggy Dew.  She sat there and waited for me – for reasons unknown to me I had taken out ‘Growing up Duggar’ from the library and so she read that whilst waiting.  Then we schlepped back in the dark and rain to the skytrain and bus situation.

“Could this be farther?” I asked her.

“Probably,” she said.

She’s a good one at staying calm during my drama.  On the way to the skytrain a huge truck kept honking at us while we were GPSing.  We were on the sidewalk but seems he was afraid he would hit her wheelchair with the tail of his truck or so he shouted.

This degenerated quickly into an argument between he and me.

“Let’s go,” said C, casually.

“But,” I said, “But he – ”

“We will go now.”

“Okay,” I said, “Right.”

On the 10,000 hour skytrain ride I pointed out that he was in the wrong and that it made sense for me to escalate the situation.

“Not really,” said C.

“Right,” I said.

I’m down on myself and my ability to do things that are out of my comfort zone.  I feel like my comfort zone boundaries have become less.  Gack.

Ooops, now I’m going back into the no energy zone.  Weird.  Teaching will be a challenge with this energy and no energy zone situation.  Not sure what drugs would give me energy.  Gravol has been working nicely dealing with the nausea although it makes me sleepy as heck.

Did I want to listen to music whilst painting, asked AT the other day. Okay, I said, here’s some Johnny Cash doing some covers.  His Nine Inch Nails ‘Hurt’ cover is extraordinary.  And then some Peter Gabriel – the song he does with Kate Bush – ‘Don’t Give Up’ not called that I don’t think.  I’d brought Stevie Nicks but we didn’t listen to it.

GENTLE, dammit.

Ha, that’s kinda funny.

It’s raining and the time change is upon us – typical Vancouver fall heading into winter.  The leaves on the trees are an amazing colour right now.  Streets and streets of red and orange.  Before I knew the virus was as icky as it is, I rode my bike up to UBC yesterday in order to sort myself out I thought.  Seems not but the trees were lovely.

Johnny Cash.  What a voice.  Actually the song that is going through my head is “The Man Comes Around.”

I’m frustrated.  With sickness, with what it makes me feel unable to do.

If I make it through these next two weeks of work, I’m getting new pants, dang it.

Sadly missed going to the Vineyard Church this morning – I’ve come to – wait for it – enjoy it a bit.

I am wordy tonight.


Carry on.